or three-ringed circus
a circus having three adjacent rings in which performances take place simultaneously.
something spectacular, tumultuous, entertaining, or full of confused action: Our family reunions are always three-ring circuses.
Origin of three-ring circus
An Americanism dating back to 1880–85
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019
British Dictionary definitions for three-ring circus
noun US and Canadian
a circus with three rings in which separate performances are carried on simultaneously
a situation of confusion, characterized by a bewildering variety of events or activities
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
Idioms and Phrases with three-ring circus
A situation of complete confusion, as in It was a three-ring circus, with the baby crying, the dog barking, both telephones ringing, and someone at the front door. This term alludes to a circus where three rings or arenas are featuring performances simultaneously. Perhaps invented by show business impresario P.T. Barnum, the term was extended to other confused situations by about 1900.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.